Bo Levi Mitchell passes for 473 yards as defending FCS Champions open with 30-27 loss to FCS Washington
A historic matchup came one play from being a memorable one for the Eastern Washington University football team.
But it certainly was an excellent starting point for the Eagles to defend their NCAA Division I title as EWU narrowly fell to Washington 30-27 Saturday (Sept. 3) at Husky Stadium in Seattle, Wash.
Eagle quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell had the second-best passing performance in Eagle history with 473 yards, but had a potential game-winning pass intercepted in the end zone with 29 ticks of the clock remaining. The Eagles outgained the Huskies 504-250 in the game.
“I’m really proud of our guys,” head coach Beau Baldwin said. “I’m not into moral victories, but don’t get me wrong. I think people didn’t really believe that we were coming in here with the idea that we could win this game. That’s no disrespect to Washington, but that was our mindset going into it.
“I think the Washington Huskies are a very good football team, very well-coached and I knew it would take our best effort,” Baldwin added. “When it came down to it, we just had a few mistakes. But because of the heart of our guys and the way they competed to the end, I couldn’t be more proud of them right now.”
A crowd of 58,088 witnessed the first-ever meeting between the Eagles, a member of the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision and the Big Sky Conference, and the Huskies, a member of the Football Bowl Subdivision and the Pac-12 Conference. It was the third-largest crowd to witness an Eastern game.
Despite the difference in classifications, EWU was not daunted. The Eagles took a 10-7 lead in the second quarter and although they never led again, they remained within striking distance the rest of the game. Mitchell finished with the second-most pass attempts (69) and completions (39) in school history. He had three touchdown passes – all of them to different receivers.
Junior All-America receiver Brandon Kaufman had 10 catches for 140 yards, Nicholas Edwards had 12 grabs for 108 yards and a touchdown and Greg Herd had seven catches for 87 yards and a TD. Each player had career highs for receptions and yards in the game. Sophomore Ashton Clark added four grabs for 73 yards and a touchdown after entering the game with just one career catch.
“They just continue to make plays,” said Baldwin of his team’s passing game. “We were trying to take what they were giving us. We went in with the idea that we were going to work the quick passing game and when they came up we’d go over the top of them.
“I felt like if we could get our passing game rolling and clicking -- we’re pretty dynamic and we have a chance to be pretty sharp,” Baldwin added. “I knew we had a shot, but I didn’t necessarily think we would end up with that many total yards. We got hot, the guys went out there and made plays, and the offensive line protected them really well against a Pac-12 defensive line.”
Eastern forced Washington to punt on its first possession of the game, but a muffed punt return by Eastern’s Matt Johnson led to an UW touchdown. It was the first punt return attempt in the career of Johnson, who was an All-American at safety for the Eagles last season when his team finished 13-2 and with an 11-game winning streak. Eastern’s regular punt returner, Tyler Hart, did not play because of a knee injury.
But the Eagles responded with a 58-yard scoring drive, capped by a 32-yard touchdown pass from Mitchell to sophomore Ashton Clark. It was Clark’s first career TD grab for the Eagles.
Eastern followed with a 74-yard drive on its next possession to take a 10-7 lead, but had to settle for a 28-yard field goal by Mike Jarrett. After the Huskies scored 13 unanswered points, the Eagles pulled to within 20-13 right before halftime with a 68-yard drive, capped by Jarrett’s 28-yard field goal.
Eastern had 253 yards of offense in the first half, compared to just 137 for the Huskies. Mitchell had 229 of his yards at intermission.
The Eagles came a bit unraveled in the third quarter. Although Washington didn’t score for the first 12 minutes of the period, a failed fourth-down attempt deep in Washington territory hurt Eastern. In fact, a procedure penalty turned a fourth-and-two into a fourth-and-seven on the play.
Eastern punted on its next offensive possession, then EWU had another stop of the Huskies before disaster struck again on special teams. A punt by the Huskies hit the helmet of Eagle Darriell Beaumonte and UW recovered. Three plays later, the Huskies scored to take a 27-13 lead with 2:44 left.
“We have to clean up some things -- we obviously made some mistakes in spots where they were able to score on short fields,” explained Baldwin. “So those are the areas we need to come back and clean-up, but you know it’s just tough. It’s tough when you’re in that spot and you have a shot at the end. But at the same time I’m extremely pleased with the fight of our squad.”
But the Eagles sandwiched two more scores around a Husky field goal to pull within 30-27. The first score came on Herd’s 43-yard grab from Mitchell to cap a 73-yard drive, then Edwards gathered in a 5-yard TD with 3:50 left in the game after a 70-yard drive.
After the Huskies had to punt, completions of 32 yards to Edwards and 23 to Clark helped give the Eagles a first-and-10 at the Washington 25 with 41 seconds to play. After an incompletion, Washignton’s Desmond Trufant out-positioned Kaufman for the game-clinching interception for UW.
Mitchell’s performance ranks only behind the 486 yards Todd Bernett had in 1994 against Montana. Bernett was at the EWU-UW game and is now head coach of Vancouver College Prep in Vancouver, B.C.
The matchup was a homecoming road game for many Eagles. Eastern’s current 92-man roster includes 60 players from the state of Washington, and for much of its history as a member of Division I, the Eagles have dubbed themselves “Washington’s Team.” Of those 60 players, 41 are from the Puget Sound area, and another six are from Southwest Washington, just a short trip down Interstate 5 from Seattle.
Eastern now plays at South Dakota next Saturday (Sept. 10) at 2 p.m. Pacific time. Eastern opens the Big Sky Conference season the following week at Montana (Sept. 17), then plays its home opener Sept. 24 against fellow defending league champion Montana State.
“We are 0-1 and we’ve got to just dig back,” added Baldwin. “We don’t like the taste of being 0-1, but we’re going to find a way to fight and do the things we need to do in practice to come back. We need to do everything we can to get a win next week.”